How does the size of a state’s nuclear arsenal affect the likelihood that the state achieves its goals in an international crisis? Most scholars of this question have argued that having large nuclear arsenals does not especially benefit states in crisis situations. Matthew Kroenig’s The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy (2018) argues that states possessing a larger nuclear arsenal than a crisis opponent will emerge victorious more often. As a result, Kroenig’s book is an important and direct contrast to existing scholarship. If Kroenig’s argument is correct, policymakers should pursue larger nuclear arsenals, even though doing so could potentially trigger dangerous arms races. However, in a detailed reconsideration of Kroenig’s approach, we reaffirm the conventional wisdom that nuclear superiority does not generally determine crisis outcomes. This review essay identifies central concerns with the construction of Kroenig’s argument, focusing on both the logic he uses to argue that nuclear superiority confers advantages and on his operationalization of superiority. We then utilize alternative codings and methodological techniques to more accurately test the effect of superiority on crisis outcomes, concluding that Kroenig’s findings are flawed.
Abby Fanlo is a graduate student with an interest in international relations and comparative politics.
Lauren Sukin is a graduate student with an interest in international relations and comparative politics.